Burgerville sells not only burgers but also good work. But if you don't live in Oregon or the State of Washington. you may have never heard about Burgerville, a company founded in 1961 in Vancouver. Washington. Today. there are 39 Burgerville restaurants spanning those two states with more scheduled to come.
In the 1990s, when Burgerville began losing sales of its burgers to the national chains, Chief Executive Tom Mears decided to differentiate his product and sell “burgers with a soul.” Mears, the son-in-law of the founder, decided to combine good food with good works. The company began to build its strategy around three key words: `fresh, local, and sustainable.” It pursued this strategy through partnerships with local businesses, farms, and producers. In 2003, Gourmet magazine recognized Burgerville the home of the nation's freshest fast food.
According to the company Web site, “At Burgerville, doing business responsibly means doing business sustainabty. One example of this is our commitment to purchasing 100 percent local wind power *oval to the energy use of all our restaurants and corporate office.” The company purchases its electricity from local windmills. Burgerville uses “sustainable agriculture,” which moans that its moat and produce are free from genetically modified seeds or livestock. In its cooking, the company avoids trans-fats, and once the cooking oils are used up, they are converted
into biodiesel. The company buys its antibiotic- and hormone-free beef locally.
In addition to burgers, Burgerville offers a wild Coho salmon and Oregon Hazelnut Salad. Meals for children often come with seeds and gardening tools rather than the usual cheap toy offered at the national chains.
Burgerville extends its good works to its employees. The company pays 95 percent of the health insurance for its hundreds of workers. This adds 51.5 million to its annual compensation expense. To get its affordable health care, employees have to work a minimum of 20 hours a week for at least six months, a more generous arrangement than most provided by stores.
Being a good corporate citizen is expensive. Though the company won't reveal its financial bottom line, one industry consultant estimated that its margin is closer to 10 percent compared with McDonald's 15 percent.
1. Is the world ready for a socially responsible, sus¬tainable hamburger? How much extra would you be willing to pay, assuming the burgers taste really good?
2. What tensions among its economic, legal, ethical, and philanthropic responsibilities do you think are most pressing to Burgerville?
3. Does Burgerville sound like a business that might work in Oregon and Washington, but maybe not elsewhere? What is the future of Burgerville?